“When I went out on the field to warm up, I would manufacture things to make me mad,” he once said. “If someone on the other team was laughing, I'd pretend he was laughing at me or the Bears. It always worked for me."
- From Dick Butkus article on Pro Football Hall of Fame
The University of Illinois has only retired two jerseys. One was Number 77 in honor of Red Grange of Wheaton. See a previous Illinois Hall of Fame post for a profile of Red. The other was Number 50 in honor of Dick Butkus of Chicago. Both men were also outstanding stars for the Chicago Bears. Red is one of the greatest players of all time. Dick is almost certainly the greatest middle linebacker of all time.
Dick was born Dec. 9, 1942 as the youngest of eight children in the Roseland neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. His parents were of Lituanian heritage. He attended Chicago Vocational High School at 2100 East 87th Street. In high school, Dick was an all-state fullback and was fierce on defense also.
He graduated from Chicago Vocational in 1961 and entered the University of Illinois that fall. During his junior year in the fall of 1963, Dick made 145 tackles as a linebacker and caused ten fumbles. Illinois ranked number three nationally that year, won the Big Ten Championship, and then beat the University of Washington 17 - 7 in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day of 1964. Dick was also named All-American that year.
According to the ESPN web site, "Butkus, as mean as ever as a senior, repeated as an All-American in 1964. That November the Chicago Bears had the Nos. 3 and 4 picks in the first round of the draft and chose Butkus and Gale Sayers, setting a standard of excellence in drafting. In its scouting report on the Bears before Butkus' rookie season, Sports Illustrated wrote: 'There is some mild apprehension that Butkus might be a step too slow to play center linebacker, his college position, and not experienced enough to wade right in at one of the outside posts, but a little seasoning should make him an outstanding defender.'"
In his first season with the Bears, Dick's main competitor for Rookie of the Year was teammate Gale Sayres. In just that first year, Dick led the Bears in tackles, pass interceptions, and recovered fumbles. His energy and agressive nature was an inspiration to teammates and intimidating to opponents. He was named to the All-NFL first team six straight years starting in 1965.
For eight straight years, Butkus led the Bears in tackles with an average of 120 tackles and 58 assists per season. In 1967 he made a career high of 18 sacks.
Dick Butkus had a serious knee injury in 1970 and it never completely healed after surgery. Dick played for the Bears for three more years until the pain became so severe that he was no longer able to compete during the 1973 season. Dick was named to the Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1979. To see Dick's professional stats, see his page on the National Football Hall of Fame.
In a ceremony on Oct. 31, 1994 at Soldier Field, The Bears retired the Number 51 Butkus jersey. Click here to see Dick's new website just created in September 2006. You can read much more about his life and football career on the new site.
For Dick Butkus, there was life after football as a movie and TV actor and TV commercial celebrity at large along with other projects. He appeared in 47 TV shows and feature films between 1974 and 2000 and still appears in commercials for various products. For a complete list of his TV roles and movies, see the Dick Butkus page on the Internet Movie Database.